October 9th, 2018
Halifax, NS - A new musical is being developed by a Nova Scotian writing team that will feature songs originally made famous by Anne Murray, the Grammy-award-winning singer from Springhill, Nova Scotia. The show just underwent a 2-week developmental workshop in Halifax with an 11-member cast of actors. The workshop culminated in a staged reading presentation at the Bella Rose Arts Centre this past Friday.
The show’s Nova Scotian writers Geordie Brown and Belinda Hart say that while the show features songs from Murray’s extensive catalogue, and borrows its title from the 1980 hit “Could I Have This Dance?”, the show’s plot is an original storyline, and not an account of the singer’s life.
“It’s more of a Mamma Miathan a Jersey Boys”, says Brown, who is known to Halifax audiences for his productions of Stan Rogers: A Matter of Heart, The Songs of The Rat Pack andThe Advent Show.
“But the wonderful thing is that the story came first, and then the music just happened to fit seamlessly. It’s an incredible storyline; that’s why I originally came on board.”
Brown, who was born and raised in Dartmouth, is no stranger to jukebox musicals; he is fresh off starring in the world premiere of Jukebox Hero: The Musical which is based on the greatest hits of rock band Foreigner. That show’s producers have high hopes of a Broadway run after a US tour in 2019.
“It was definitely a blessing that I was able to work on Jukebox Heroright before jumping into this process. I took a lot of mental notes.”
Hart, who was born in Newfoundland before moving to Nova Scotia, says she wrote the storyline of the show, based on her grandmother’s life, almost 10 years ago. She says she knew then that the story would make a great musical.
“When I was first putting the story to paper, I would listen to my grandmother’s favourite music, including several Anne Murray albums.” says Hart, who then approached Brown after seeing his production of Stan Rogers: A Matter of Heartat Neptune last year.
“I knew I didn’t have the experience to make this dream a reality. I contacted Geordie because I knew he could make it happen, and the rest is history.”
The two have been collaborating over the past year, reworking the story to make it better suited to the stage.
“It’s been an amazing process. We would meet several times a week and write for hours.”
Brown confesses that, while people’s initial interest in the show might be due to the music, a lot of his focus has been on perfecting the storyline.
“Because it’s based on a true story, Belinda and I have seemingly endless material to draw inspiration from. The plot is very fast-paced. It focuses on a sisterhood of women, and how they band together through widowhood, parenthood, love, and loss. And it’s all set in Nova Scotia.”
Brown says that, while Anne Murray herself isn’t involved yet, he’s hopeful that she’ll give her blessing.
“We’ve exchanged a few emails with her manager. But we want to further develop the show to make sure we have a great product before we pursue that relationship further. And a big step in that process has been this workshop”.
The workshop cast is lead by four female actors. Elle Denny, a Dalhousie graduate who was recently nominated for a Dora Award for her performance in the leading role of Life Afterin Toronto, performed the leading role of Evie. Denny has appeared at Neptune Theatre as Johanna in Sweeney Todd, and Belle inBeauty & The Beast.Denny says she has recently discovered a passion for new theatre works, due to the development of her own play that she has written about her great aunt, Harriet Brooks, who was Canada’s first nuclear physicist.
“I appreciate how much work goes into something like this. It can be a long and thankless process.” says Denny, who performed alongside Brown in Anne & Gilbert: The Musical in Charlottetown.
Denny was joined on stage on Friday night by award-winning Canadian musical theatre veterans Judy Marshak and Charlotte Moore, who played her mother and aunt.
Marshak has had a wide-ranging career spanning television, songwriting, and musical theatre, including Doubt at Theatre New Brunswick, four seasons at the Charlottetown Festival, and a long run in her award-winning performance as Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Toronto production of Beauty & The Beast. This project is Marshak’s Nova Scotian debut.
Moore, who is the daughter of Mavor Moore (best known as one of the creators of Anne of Green Gables - The Musical), has performed across the country for over 35 years, including 3 seasons at the Shaw festival, appearances at Neptune Theatre in Les Miserablesand Gypsy, as well as an award-winning performance in the Toronto production of Rocky Horror Picture Show. A champion of Canadian musical theatre, Moore can be heard on the original cast recording of Stan Rogers: A Matter of Heart.
Rounding out the four leads is Laura Larson, who played Evie’s best friend Anna. Larson was recently seen by Halifax audiences in Easternfront Theatre’s workshop presentation of Bluenose, the new musical by Jim Betts and John Estacio.
Directed by Brown who also arranged the musical score, the presentation also featured Jennette White, Kyle Gillis, Ann Doyle, Lucas Popowich, Rebecca McCauley, Andrew MacNaughton, Micah Richardson, and guitarist Andrew Murray, with choreography by Mary Lou Martin, and stage management by Christine Oakey.
The presentation was followed by a reception and talk-back session, giving the enthusiastic invite-only audience of 300 a unique opportunity to provide feedback to the writers and cast.
“I’m overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve received tonight. They were with us the whole way, hanging on every word.”, says Hart.
The crowd of invited guests included many from the Nova Scotia arts community, including Neptune Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jeremy Webb, who provided strong words of encouragement, while offering to help take the show to its next stage of development.
“From the standing ovation to the incredible feedback we’ve received tonight, I couldn’t be happier.”, says Brown following the talk-back session. “We were so lucky to have this incredible team of artists help us develop the show over the past two weeks. And now to receive a response like this, it’s the icing on the cake.”
The presentation was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Bella Rose Arts Centre and Neptune Theatre.